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For week ended August 08, 1999 Posted 29 Aug 1999

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Mormons raise funds to stop gay marriage

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Mormons raise funds to stop gay marriage
San Francisco CA Examiner 8Aug99 L1
By Zachary Coile: Examiner Staff

In spite of the pressure on the LDS Church over its backing for the Knight initiative, members of the Church have answered the call to support the measure financially. "It's not going as fast as I hoped it would, but it's happening," said Merrill Higham, LDS Church spokesman in Belmont, California. The vote on the measure, which would make it more difficult to allow gay marriage in California, will be held in March 2000.

Higham, who contributed $2,000 himself, sees the issue as one of biblical law. "When we talk about traditional marriage - that is, marriage between a man and a woman - we are talking about one of the core beliefs of our faith, our religion," Higham said. "So we're talking about something we consider sacred. Not just important, but sacred."

The Church asked members in California to support the initiative in a May 11th letter from the North America West Area Presidency. The letter was to be read in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings in California. A second letter, dated May 20th, tells how leaders in congregations can solicit donations to support the initiative. The letter warns Church leaders not to raise funds on church property, or use church letterhead or meetings for the campaign.

While its not clear what kind of response the campaign has received, anecdotally, members say they have responded. 62-year-old Paul Edwards of Napa, California, said he gave $200, "I just believe that's the proper way to go," he said. "If you're a member of the Mormon Church, your thinking is that the relationship of marriage needs to be between a man and a woman. That's the belief we have in the church."

The May 20th letter came to light after it was released by former Mormon Kathy Worthington, of Utah. The letter was addressed to all 159 stake presidents in Calfornia from Elder Douglas L. Callister. In the letter he says that "No undue pressure of any type should be applied," to get donations. Callister also says in the letter that "this is a moral issue, not a political issue, fully justifying the support of LDS families."

The letter shocked San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, who has forwarded the letter to City Attorney Louise Renne, so that it can be sent to the IRS. He says that it may demonstrate that the LDS Church is abusing its tax-exempt status. "All Americans get to take part in the political process," says Leno. "Churches and other . . . charitable organizations get to speak their minds and advocate a position. But to take an active role in raising money, that means that these individuals are collecting salaries from an organization which exists off of tax-deductible contributions, and on church time and letterhead (they) are raising money to weigh in on a political ballot measure. . . . I think that crosses the line."

Elder Callister, who is a tax lawyer in Glendale, California, says he wrote the letter to avoid introducing the gay marriage issue into church services. "I felt our church meetings had been dedicated for worship and prayer, and in large part we should use them solely for that, and this could be more comfortably discussed in homes and other settings."

Callister also disputed Leno's position about the Church's tax-exempt status. He says the IRS allows churches and other groups to get involved in political issues on two conditions. First, that their involvement isn't a significant part of their overall activities, and second, that they don't back a particular candidate. "(The church's) involvement with political issues is rare and does not involve a significant fraction of its total activities and assets when one considers the substantial resources committed by the church to missionary work, temple and meeting house construction and maintenance, family history, education and so forth," he said. "Further, the church maintains strict neutrality regarding political candidates."

Meanwhile, the No on the Knight effort, which opposes the initiative, said in a memo on Thursday that the campaign and the Church are hiding the level of the Church's support. In particular, the memo points out that the campaign paid $32,400, its largest single expenditure, to Wirthlin Worldwide, the polling firm headed by Elder Richard B. Wirthlin of the Seventy. It also says that the campaign has received a concentration of donations from four heavily Mormon towns in Southern California, Temecula, Murrieta, Vista and Fallbrook. One of the donations in Murrieta, was from Stake President Roger Connors, who gave the campaign $10,000.

Higham notes that the campaign has been hard on those members with gay or lesbian friends and relatives, "Even within the LDS community, there are families that have members of their family who are involved in a lifestyle that is contrary to the church," he said. "I know that has been agonizing for them."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information